Are there…visible otters?


I had been looking forward to seeing Stewart Lee for ages. Ever since I saw him do an Edinburgh preview at Fat Tuesday back in July I was convinced that he is the best comedian on the circuit today. For those not in the know, Stew first came to prominence as one half of Lee and Herring who in the late ’90s created both “Fist Of Fun” and “This Morning With Richard Not Judy”. He seemed to disappear for a while before returning to national fame as the co-writer of “Jerry Springer The Opera” and will soon be recording the second series of “Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle”.

I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, however this was actually fortuitous. When I got around to booking tickets there were only single seats left which meant I could get one in the third row. I’ve been to the Leicester Square Theatre on a number of occasions, mainly for Richard Herring’s AIOTM (aiotm!) as well as Herring’s Hitler Moustache and The Collings and Herrin podcast live, so it was nice to see someone else here for a change, even if it was his ex comedy partner.

Lee arrived at 7.30 prompt and before he got on stage began berating the audience for being late, ordering them to sit down. He was using this current “Vegetable Stew” show to try out sets for his upcoming Comedy Vehicle series and was going to do 3 x 25 minute sets tonight.He is well known for giving his audience a hard time and making them work and tonight was no exception. He started slow. Very slow indeed. He pointed out that he knew that as it was Christmas that there would be some office parties in, probably booked by “Alan”, an enthusiastic fan of his, while “Geoff” the boss and everyone else looked on bemused. He told the audience off for laughing at a joke he did about a single mother. “Do you think that was funny? I don’t. I hate it. I’ve been told I could sell that joke to Tramadol Nights.”

The first set was about moving to the countryside, and how awful the countryside is; the constant repetition of the words both frustrating and hypnotising the crowd. Most of this set was taken up with an imaginary phone call to an imaginary estate agent – hence the blog title: his friend who moved to the countryside had bragged about being able to see otters from the window – which turned into a conversation about how well or badly the gig was going, and that perhaps only a third of the people were enjoying it.The imaginary estate agent told Stew that he should have bailed out of the routine after the phrase “visible otters”. This entire monologue went on for perhaps 15 minutes, with his back to the audience with the occasional sly look to see if more people were laughing.

The second set was about charity. Or, as Stew told us, it was to be about Adrian Chiles, but the BBC said this would have constituted a sustained attack, so he had to change the title. However this was still a sustained attack on Chiles before he moved on to Russell Howard, however without malice and extremely funny. This also focused on the amount of benefit gigs he does himself, which started as an estimate of 30-40 a year but by the end of the routine had slowly climbed to 80. This set was much more upbeat and climaxed with one of his trademark off stage off mic rants, shouting at someone moving about on the other side of the theatre when it was clear that if they “had ever seen anything ever” that this set was reaching a climax. Although Stew often claims that some sections of the room are quicker to react than others and tries to get the others up to speed I could see that tonight  it was certainly true. The guy sitting beside me looked terribly confused, disappointed, and possibly upset. I don’t think he had been prepared by his friend who seemed to be having a whale of a time.

In the second half I decided to lean nonchalantly by the bar. I was being slightly annoyed by the grumpy guy beside me, and found myself standing beside the world’s biggest Stewart Lee fan. Oh he was laughing alright. Laughing so hard at every line. Once he even slapped his thigh. However I liked him even though other nonchalant types were glaring at him.

Stew had given us a choice of topics for this final set: the difference between comedy now and comedy in the ’80s or “some sort of political stuff about the government”. The room was split, but my ’80s comedy choice won, and Stew felt guilty that some of the audience would be disappointed and said he wished he hadn’t given us a choice now: “This is why democracy can never work”.

He sat on a stool for this set, clutching his guitar, explaining that having a guitar or a piano to use as a prop means that the audience would let him get away with substandard material and then explained the problems he has trying to get a gig at the O2 (I wonder who he could have been referring to?).

He explained that in the ’80s all the comedians hated the Tories, and now all comedians hate their kitchen appliances before attempting to do a “Live At The Apollo” style routine about a toaster that either slightly warms the bread or burns it charcoal black. Naturally this went on for longer than you’d expect before explaining that the toaster was clearly broken and he should really take it back. he went on to remind us of the importance of keeping the receipt, although the staff in the shop shop he buys his electrical appliances from all know him so he might not need the receipt. “My observational comedy might not be very good, but at least you get excellent consumer advice.” The show ended with a song on the guitar comprising of loads of very hack observational comedy lines which was rather pointed towards a rather popular current comedian. I’m not sure who, but the last two lines were “You’re a liar. Your name is Michael…” but we never got to hear his surname.

I actually quite like Michael McIntyre (in small doses). I’ve said it now and it cannot be taken back. Deal with it. Though I do wish he’s stop crowbarring accents into all his routines.

Great gig. It couldn’t have been better. Maybe some more off stage off mic ranting but I’m just picking hairs. I grabbed a few pictures afterwards for this blog and on the spur of the moment bought his triple CD “What Would Judas Do?” which tells the story of the last week in Jesus’ life from the point of view of this misunderstood disciple. I recommend it. You can get it from Go Faster Stripe as well as loads of other great DVDs from other very funny acts.

He finished his run on Saturday but has booked 5 more dates in the new year, so get tickets while you can. I’m up for it!

Oh I nearly forgot. One of my favourite lines of the night: “I hate Al Qaeda. I know its politically incorrect but I find them rude.”

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